The transition to data is important, Dulaney said, because revenue per voice subscriber has been decreasing for a long time.
"The operators have discovered e-mail, and they're making money, finally, from data," Dulaney said. "Over time, we'll see more bundles of data and voice for a flat rate." The purpose of these bundles is to help the carriers retain their existing customers. Customer turnover, called "churn" in the industry, is expensive for cellular operators.
The bottom line, the analysts said, is that while the first crop of flat-rate cellular calling plans won't attract many customers, they will over time lead to significant changes in how we acquire and use mobile services.